Arguing the Inarguable

Blah Blah Blah is usually how students interpret an argument. Even better: most students believe that an argument involves a problem where the arguer is mad at someone and is taking out their angst on that person. With the implementation of Common Core, there is a need to explain that arguing is simply making a claim and supporting it. We use it all the time, from our first Interpretive Essay to our last assignment of building a Knight’s resume.

In my 1st and 4th hour, we have begun a 4-5 week unit on Argument and Persuasion. In the Unit we will peruse the joy of persuasion as we read Sagan’s “On Nuclear Disarmament” and two articles about animal rights and animal testing. The articles are meant to encourage discussion and expand students’ minds in these controversial areas. At the end of the unit, we will research for an editorial.

Last week I had the privilege of being observed by my principal (observation 3 of 4 of the 2013-2014 school year). I don’t pull out the dog-and-pony show when he comes because (with the exception of a few low-key days) every day is a crazy-fun day (not just my words). On this particular day, I planned for him to see a type of lesson I’d never done before. We had already introduced the concepts of an argument the day before, taking notes from the textbook and coming up with examples from media on different types of persuasion, but on the day of my observation we were going to concretely put those ideas into practice.

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I love copy paper and markers.We folded a piece of copy paper into thirds so we’d have a pretty good outline for our graphic aid. I stole the aid from my textbook (And should have done so AT THE BEGINNING OF THE SEMESTER) to help explain and identify the Claim and Support (also helpful when teaching Main Idea and Supporting Details). We took markers and outlined our roof and pillars. You’ll notice that the roof is marked as the “claim” and then we have two supporting reasons and a counterargument.

The claim, for this exercise, had to be a simple sentence presenting a the existence of something that doesn’t actually exist. For instance, one boy claimed that Bigfoot is real, another that snow was just angels’ dandruff. One girl claimed that running was actually bad for your health. A bright young man claimed that there are no other countries besides America, it’s all a Hollywood facade.

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For each claim, the students had to give two reasons why the claim was true. They could only use ONE testimonial, the others had to be “facts” (made up details from scientists, experts, the news, etc). The counterargument had to be different than the reasons they had previously given. Each supporting detail had to be explain in at least five sentences.

It took them awhile to begin; making up a topic and claiming its existence proved a bigger challenge than they expected. But the results were phenomenal. I prefaced the lesson by explaining that we would use this model to do an editorial later in the unit, but for today they would just have to make something up. They were engaged, they understood what a claim and counterargument were, and what they came up with truly was genius.

In the spirit of Common Core, I put learning into their hands. I taught them the structure of an argument, the importance of “real facts” to back up a claim, and the joy of being creative.

It was a good lesson and a good day.

MK

 

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